Karen Dylewski is the director of Forest Park’s Mohr Community Center where the community food pantry is located. “Our pantry has seen a lot of people in the last month and I believe we will see more in the coming months,” she said. “We are getting more than normal and a lot of them are new.”
The fact that she is getting calls from people who have never signed up before is an indication of how far reaching the effect of unemployment and the stay at home orders have been.
Teri Miller at Beyond Hunger — formerly the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry — reported similar statistics. “We’ve seen increased usage as high as 35 percent in any one week. We’ve had a 150 percent increase in first time visitors to the pantry in this past month. We have also seen a 19 percent increase of Oak Park residents, and our Home Delivery program has tripled in the past month.”
Both Miller and Dylewski were unable to share detailed personal stories from the people coming for food, because a commitment to social distancing prevents staff from having long conversations with clients.
The Community Center is going to great lengths to minimize social contact during the crisis. Dylewski described how the food is handed out. “The boxes are packed and rolled on a cart and put out the door when someone comes. We are not in contact with anyone. They roll the cart to their car and return it to the door where we disinfect it and bring it in for the next box.
“Clients do not need to call ahead but can so we can be ready for them when they get here.”
Dylewski and Miller both said in contrast to people who are hoarding commodities, the people they talk to are grateful that the pantries essential services have remained open.
The Forest Park Pantry relies on donations from individuals and businesses to keep the pantry stocked. “We are so grateful to our Forest Park residents and businesses for always looking out for our food pantry.”
Miller went into more detail regarding how Beyond Hunger accesses the food it provides. One source is the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Another is local food stores and restaurants. The Beyond Hunger website said it works with these community partners to “divert safe, edible food from landfills and provide it to people in need. In 2019, food donations to our pantry account for 48 percent of the food that is distributed to the monthly 1,400 families who rely on our services.”
Dylewski is aware the need in Forest Park is not just for food but for emotional support as well. “I know our mental health is just as important as our physical health. It is such an uncertain time for so many and a very scary time for everyone. We are all in this together and if we have to be in it there is no place I would rather live than Forest Park.”